Best films to watch this fall
A diverse list that includes movies available in cinemas, screening in film festivals, or streaming on HBO, Mubi or Netflix: seven titles that are a “must-see” in the next period when we can satisfy our desire of actually going to watch a film on the big screen or enjoy it in the comfort of your home. Note that the only criterion is the lack of criteria – a silent horror from 1924 and Charlie Kaufman’s latest film? Absolutely.
I’m thinking of ending things (dir. Charlie Kaufman)
In this film almost impossible to compare with anything other than Kaufman’s cinematic quirks (first of all, the obsession with the prefabricated world, the element of the puppeteer, playful ways of showing the mental structures of its protagonists), a rather generic couple (she, who receives a lots of names and appearances, and him, the same) drive across the land to reach the house of his parents, where she will meet them. It’s not clear why she agreed to embark on this journey, in fact it seems that the idea is constantly bugging her (because, as it turns out, it’s not clear why she is still in this relationship, which she doesn’t even remember how it really started). Although Kaufman leads the viewer on the wrong track that Lucy (?) is the protagonist of the film, in the end she has no thoughts of her own, no original ideas (taking ad litteram passages from the things Jake read/admired over time). Although Lucy is a projection, she has a bizarre independence – just as Malkovich (from Being John Malkovich) who, although manipulated by so many personalities, still showed signs of autonomy; including the fact that she wants to end the relationship – or she makes it clear from time to time that she is grossed out with it.
I was thinking, while watching Anomalisa, how rare it is to see such a lethargic protagonist, so one-dimensional and ultimately boring, whose life is so dull; I had the same feeling on Jake’s long drive home through snow in … Ending Things, which is sprinkled with grotesque poems about the ridiculousness of returning in full failure to your homeland, where no surprise, no joy is there for you, just a shiny feeling of shame. In fact, the projection of “Jake’s relationship” is nothing more than a valve which allows the protagonist to wash some of his shame born from boredom and loneliness. It’s even sadder that even in a self-directed narrative, in his own fantasies, Jake can’t have any victory. His figments are far from being soothing, on the contrary, they prove to be a slap on the face. Kaufman doesn’t leave these things transparent, but leads to multiple interpretations – even for someone who has read Iain Reid’s novel, which the film is based on, they will still cringe at the unexpected mood shifts (horror, comedy, marriage drama, melodrama) and the scenes where the action, otherwise simple, gets ultra complicated. Even so, I got ecstatic at times like a child who just found gold – who else turns into statues all the stupid thoughts that sometimes run through their heard?
Available on Netflix anytime.
Tenet (dir. Christopher Nolan)
I watched Tenet in a continuous bass tremolo, which made my toes curl up; I admit that I was startled by a couple of sudden moments and immersed myself so strangely in the film, that it felt like I never wanted it to end. It’s true that Nolan’s new film has this effect when it’s watched in a room with the right sound; if not, the level of excitement is minimized. I’m probably exaggerating, but if you rip the cover off (which is made of so many props, so many impeccably executed visual effects, so many stunts and impossible camera movements), you will find the same regular mess. The idea of palindrome (a replicated reality, unfurling in a dream in Inception, and here in the manipulation of time) is reflected in the classic apocalyptic plot where Russian tycoons are the evil and American agents are trying to stop them (well, probably a Bond, as others have noticed as well). Someone in the future wants to create a breach to descend on the people in the present, as to make space for those in the future. In the end, you are left with a show typical of commercial cinema that you don’t get to see anywhere else and with the certainty that the script lacks consistency or that it self-flagellates along the way.
Personal tip: I really think it’s valid here (and, of course, with many of Nolan’s movies), stop expecting for this story to turn logical/rational, don’t watch the movie to solve a puzzle, but let your eyes be amazed by the visual grandiosity.
Running in cinemas starting with September 18.
The Hands of Orlac (dir. Robert Weine, 1924)
This wonderful silent film directed by German filmmaker Robert Weine, the second most important in the director’s filmography after the famous Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (1920), is a horror that joins the extremely popular series of films with ghastly scientific experiments (from, for example, the most common – Bride of Frankenstein, Les Yeux Sans Visage or La Piel Que Habito). Under the malignant transplant trope, the bourgeois pianist Orlac suffers an accident and, as a result, he loses both his hands; a more daring doctor offers to sew other hands instead, only that they belong to a local murderer, who has just been executed. Seen with these new hands, Orlac feels that they fail to respond to his command, in fact they totally contradict him, they are like a foreign body that could take the power at any time and commit a crime themselves. The expressionist horror comes from exactly that, from the protagonist’s skeletal and electrocuted body, who keeps his phalanges stiff, at a distance, being completely terrified by his own hands. His illness is not a real one, but a psychosomatic fantasy – which all evil spirits take advantage of in order to plunder his fortune.
Available on MUBI.
Sorry We Missed You (dir. Ken Loach)
Whatever they may say about Ken Loach’s social realism (that is miserable, or too much of a drama etc.), Sorry We Missed You has something of De Sica’s heroes’ tragedy, meaning that, no matter how much they would strive, the uncertainty in the outside would tear their inner world apart; the more dignified they are, the more reality comes to rub their faces in the dirt. This is the case of a modest family that struggles to stay afloat, although it’s always on the verge of sinking (the father closes a deal with a delivery company, and although on paper they give him autonomy, in reality they have the last word and make it more and more difficult for him to keep up with the daily schedule; the son is a little troublemaker, who’s skipping school and is shoplifting; the little girl is good and warm, and the mother takes care of the elderly with a rare patience, although she is under time pressure every day). In this painting, any event, no matter how small (a robbery, a phone call, an accident) could easily destroy the already fragile structure of the family. Loach discusses how capitalism can dictate us to live such a life – and that anyone who doesn’t adhere to its speed loses the final train and has no way to get back in line – everything is a negotiation and a choice.
The film can be watched in cinemas from September 25
Delphine and Carole, Insoumuses (dir. Callisto McNulty)
This year’s edition of French Film Festival is all about the feminine – which is a great joy. One of the most important screenings is Delphine and Carole, Insoumuses, not only because it’s a documentary about the feminist movement in France, seen through the filter of friendship between a film director (Carole Roussopoulos) and the famous actress Delphine Seyrig (it’s not a coincidence that she happens to be the protagonist of Jeanne Dielman, one of the key films of feminism), but also because it’s preceded by a number of short films made by French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché between 1898 and 1907. Alice Guy was the first director in the history of cinema and, with few exceptions, her name wasn’t mentioned much in Romania. The association between Alice Guy’s pioneering figure and the odyssey of feminism in France is not incidental – Callisto McNulty, Carole’s niece, starts from the fact that the camera was the first object that actually liberated women, an instrument through which they could investigate and describe their experiences, without the interference of men. This is where the activism starts: Roussopoulos and Seyrig made short films together, from short reportages in which they interview ordinary women or famous women from their own generation, to a video recording of an abortion in the anti-abortion era.
The film can be seen at the FFF on September 24.
The Blue Flower of Novalis (dir. Gustavo Vinagre, Rodrigo Carneiro)
I wanted to write about this irreverent documentary since I found it in the One World Romania selection, only there wasn’t any context where I could place it. Even now, it’s hard for me to recommend it to the common cinephile, who wouldn’t find interesting the grotesque-erotic self-irony of the protagonist, Marcelo Diorio, a histrionic gay man who discovers his anus in front of the audience from the first minute of the film, who talks about his previous lives, takes baths with almond milk in a basin and has real sex in front of the camera. Created as a hybrid between a participatory documentary (Marcelo talks to the two directors, whom he provokes to elaborate discussions, and he also happens to write the screenplay of the film) and a fictionalized sex tape, The Blue Flower of Novalis is the most stinging telling-off the protagonist gives his father, a conservative who could never come to terms with his son’s sexuality. In fact, Marcelo’s candid confessions are a sign of repression and his weapon in his attempt to avenge the entire female part of his family tree – aunts and grandmothers who were educated to be submissive, who didn’t know and could never reach orgasm.
The Blue Flower of Novalis can be watched on MUBI.
Lovecraft Country (TV series created by Misha Green for HBO)
Any fan of H.P. Lovecraft (the father of “cosmic horror”), the inexhaustible source of inspiration for universes populated by tentacular monstrous entities (inspired in turn by Edgar Allan Poe), knows that the American writer was by no means a progressive mind, but a convinced racist (he believed, for example, that people of color were half humans, half animals). The series, told from the perspective of African Americans, is set in the 1950s US, in full segregation. Black people are marginalized, assaulted in the street and denigrated, they can’t find their peace anywhere. To all these troubles are added the creatures of Lovecraft, monsters that emerge from the depths of the earth, portals with black magic, satanic organizations, etc. The irony is, as the facts state it, that the monsters seem to be easier to digest than the hostility of the white people. The title, Lovecraft Country, refers to the writer’s habit of renaming different cities or areas in the US (Oakham becomes Arkham, as a result). At the same time, it could also refer to the green book that black people carried in their pockets whenever they would leave a state, because it was the guide that allowed them to know where they are welcome or not, where they have to leave the city until sunset. The clash between the racial feud and the supernatural attack gives birth to some of the most inventive ironies of the genre. A woman of color receives the gift of turning into a white woman whenever she wishes for, and therefore she can live under privileges as long as the spell lasts, provided that she makes the ultimate sacrifice and goes through the cruel process of metamorphosis: her black skin peels off the flesh, and a new, white one appears instead.
Lovecraft Country can be watched on HBO and HBO GO.